The government’s gay marriage bill is published later today, after receiving its first reading in the Commons yesterday. How it’s received by the Tory party will be an interesting indication of just how powerful David Cameron’s EU speech was this week.
When Maria Miller unveiled the ‘quadruple lock’ to protect the Church of England from being forced to conduct same sex ceremonies, she did so into a febrile Commons. In the tearooms, MPs quarrelled or shook their head at the exodus of stalwart Conservatives from their constituency parties. But the Prime Minister’s speech gave the party such a shot in the arm on Wednesday that the atmosphere is currently very different. He has united his party on Europe for the time being, for sure, but there’s a possibility that by answering one major demand, he has diminished the damage wrought by his determination to pursue gay marriage. MPs are now unusually keen to back his leadership.
That’s not to say that the divisions over same-sex marriage will melt into thin air: this isn’t a fairytale, and gay marriage remains an issue that many MPs oppose on principle. But the EU speech could well calm his MPs into maintaining those divisions without making attacks on the Tory leadership. As for the legislation itself, the big concern continues to be whether religious leaders really are protected from legal challenge: not every MP is convinced that this is the case.